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The Girlfriend Experience'sAmy Seimetz on Sexual Agency and Harassment 

The Girlfriend Experience'sAmy Seimetz on Sexual Agency and Harassment 

Amy Seimetz

Seimetz's series -- which she writes, directs, acts in, and co-created -- tackles ideas of consent and sexual agency during a watershed moment in Hollywood.

The sophomore season of Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan's The Girlfriend Experience was ready for broadcast well before The New York Times broke the story about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's decades of predation that opened the floodgates of first-person #MeToo stories. But the season's storyline -- about a sex worker in witness protection after turning on her drug-dealing ex -- is as prescient as ever, with its explorations of sex, power, and female agency. And Seimetz, who knows the business inside and out -- she's also an actor who memorably battled with a carnivorous predator in this summer's Alien: Covenant -- is a perfect person to excavate those themes during this watershed moment.

"I've been in these very uncomfortable situations before and I've had to find a way out of them, which sucks, and find my way out of them by laughing it off and saying, 'You just said something really offensive, and I'm just going to laugh at it and still play cool,'" Seimetz told The Advocate. "I was really interested in exploring consent and exploring being put in situations that are questionable of whether it's consent or not."

An anthology series based on Steven Soderbergh's 2009 film of the same name that featured adult film star Sasha Grey, The Girlfriend Experience's first season focused on Riley Keough's Christine, a graduate student looking to pay the bills who delves into sex work, or more specifically, the world of high-end escorts.

"When we were writing the second season we had discussed marrying thematic elements of both of them, of control and the switching of power and how it's an evolving thing," Seimetz said. "The power always shifts and you can't necessarily control who has the power or that shift of power. Those are elements that we had discussed before we were even writing our second season -- these thematic elements within this world."

Seimetz and Kerrigan split the second season, with his episodes existing in similar spaces to season 1 with the emphasis on icy hotel rooms and surgically spare offices where he digs into the power dynamics between Erica (Anna Friel) a lesbian Republican fundraiser, and Anna (Louisa Krause) an escort she initially taps to spy on a politician. If Kerrigan's characters are hermetically sealed in their interior spaces, Seimetz's Bria (Carmen Ejogo) often clad in impossible heels and couture, is purposefully juxtaposed against the vast wild landscape of New Mexico, the site of her relocation.

"I really wanted to make it feel like she was like an alien dropped into this landscape and trying to figure out this new world. I was incredibly inspired by Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth and Walkabout, so that's why I set it in New Mexico," Seimetz said.

GfeinnerCarmen Ejogo as Bria

Bria's red coat splayed against the New Mexico desert may have been Seimetz's nod to Roeg's landscapes, but the idea of clothes defining the woman is more universal than that for Seimetz.

"I'm constantly trying to figure out visually the absurdity of things. I find it totally absurd that Bria's dressed up. I find dressing up kind of absurd anyway -- being an actress and going to events and people putting clothing on my body. And I'm like, 'This is weird, and what am I buying into?" Seimetz said. "It's very, what am I? What woman am I now?"

Kerrigan's characters engage in plenty of sex for work and/or personal reasons, but Ejogo's Bria, while visibly a fish out of water in her sparse landscape, appears more calculating in her relationships. Lacking overt maternal instinct, she's tasked with playing mother to her drug lord ex's 13-year-old recalcitrant daughter Kayla (Morgana Davies), and she goes full girlfriend experience with the ultrawealthy and deeply damaged self-help guru Paul (Gummo and Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine). She plays at being a family with Kayla for Paul all the while gaining power through her sexuality with Ian (Tunde Adebimpe), the married man tasked to protect her who crosses several boundaries.

"I think she's a woman who would maybe use sex a little bit to gain power or manipulate, and that came really easy to her. And when it's taken away from her, she has an identity crisis of sorts," Seimetz said of Bria. "I think sometimes people approach [sex] in a very cut and dry, not complicated manner, and I always like to [approach it with its complexities]."

At a moment when several men in power have been fired, there's never been a better time for a series that examines the blurring of lines around sex, consent, and impropriety. On being a woman in the entertainment industry, in the world, Seimetz recalled a conversation with a friend who told her about her experience on a carnival ride as a little kid, what she said was the perfect metaphor.

"She was too little for the harness, and her dad was like, 'You'll be safe.' The harness wasn't working and she just had to hold on for dear life, and she got out alive," Seimetz recalled. "And I was like, 'Oh, god! That's what it feels like. I was born a woman."

Throughout The Girlfriend Experience, Bria continually renegotiates her safety and comfort with each interaction, whether it's with Paul, the troubled man who pampers her until she shows too much agency, or with Ian, the man whose desire for her could endanger her life. In their own way, the men of Seimetz's The Girlfriend Experience exhibittheir own demons, power struggles, and shortcomings, but they're not always the obvious threat -- much like those men who've endured a reckoning since the Weinstein revelations.

"I hope people people don't think, 'Great, we've got our monsters, now we can just move on.'" Seimetz said. "Because for me, in writing, these situations tend to be so blurry in the exchange of power, and it's shifting. And that behavior that is coming out with all these men is on display in very subtle manners. It's not always a monster. It's subtle."

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Tracy E. Gilchrist

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.
Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.